I’m trying to run an outdoors business these days but I’m easily distracted. Nature keeps pulling my gaze in other directions, offering compelling asides from accounting, planning, phone calls and e-mails. I must learn to focus and shut out the nature – but somehow that doesn’t seem quite right.
I fly fished with my friend Nigel a couple of weeks ago on a small river to the south of Pittsburgh. Water was high and very stained and the flies just weren’t doing us much good. (In truth, they did eventually do Nigel some good, his inestimable patience and 3-fly rig rewarded with rainbows). The river is full of wood of all sizes from twigs lying on the bottom of the quietest pools to whole trees dislodged by the spring flooding.
A particular chunk of wood caught my eye and I said to myself, “I don’t think that’s wood. I think it’s a rock.” Don’t ask how I saw the difference – it was half imbedded in the sand and was mostly covered with the same periphyton as everything else. I’ve never seen a chunk of petrified wood in Pennsylvania before but when I tapped it, I confirmed it’s identity immediately. It was heavy and we were fishing so the stone was left behind.
A couple of days later, violent storms were sweeping into the area and would likely be getting worse as the evening progressed. It would be a good night to stay in, on the computer and get the business-related things done I need to do. But there was a certain stone in my head (not the first time this has been said of me) that beckoned me back to the river. I knew much of western PA would flood tonight and, likely, my rock would be gone or would disappear in silt.
I jumped in the car and took off, ominous navy blue clouds rushing to the southeast, thunder sounding much less distant now. A few minutes into the ride, I was in rain and then in torrential rain. I didn’t know what I’d find at the river. Arriving though, I found that the river had not responded to the rainfall yet, though it surely would in the hours ahead. I charged upstream, actually found the wood/rock a second time, embraced it in a bear hug and hauled it back downstream. Mission accomplished, and glad I’d been eating my Wheaties recently.
This lead me, over the next week, to a good bit of learning about petrified wood – where and when it came from. Mine is apparently unusually large for Pennsylvania at 55 pounds. And it’s simply an unusual find for Westmoreland County, PA.
About a week ago, there was a more serious flood and I went for a run on the local rail trail the next morning, a prelude to a day of serious computer work. That wasn’t meant to be. The volunteer crew of the Westmoreland Heritage Trail, all senior-age men, were diligently hacking away at one of several newly fallen trees. Suffice it to say, my managerial plans were put on hold in lieu of tossing poplar and maple logs for a few hours. Again – foiled by nature!
Susan and I spent half a day outdoors on Saturday. Honestly, I wasn’t thrilled to be out. The naturalist in me is revolted by bright sunny summer afternoons when everyone and their uncles crowd into local parks. Such was the case yesterday – hot and crowded with almost no animals in sight. At least we were exploring, investigating a couple of parks I’d never seen before to the north of the Pittsburgh area. I wasn’t thrilled to be out and thought that the dampest, coolest quietest place I was likely to find today was my own apartment.
But crossing the central wooded hill of the first of these parks, we found that we were nearly alone in the woods and that’s when I started to notice the mushrooms. These were little yellow knobs pushing up here and there from under the sparse leaves of this hillside. I knew that the chanterelles were due about now but these didn’t look quite right. And then they did. We found ourselves in the center of the kind of mother-load patch I’d only seen photos of before. They were probably at peak for harvesting and, having left my net bag back in the car, I rapidly filled both pockets of my cargo pants.
I later cooked walleye sandwiches and chanterelles.
That same evening we visited a more familiar tiny Pittsburgh north hills park and began by circling the diminutive pond to see what fish or amphibians could be seen. Instead, we spotted crayfish – but not just any crayfish. I immediately knew this was something odd. These were large, aggressive lobsters – bright red and attempting to ascend the clay bank at the pond’s inlet. I took a lot of pictures before we got under way again.
I had other things to do but I had to investigate the crayfish. Among the big aquatic conservation issues in Pennsylvania (and elsewhere) is the spread of non-native crayfish and I knew that, after all my time in watery places, I’d never seen these before. I did my research online and tentatively concluded that these were likely red swamp crayfish, a southern delicacy but not among our Pennsylvanian natives. I know much more about crayfish than I did before I started digging.
I have work to do but nature pulls my gaze in many directions.
And I think if there’s a lesson here it maybe has something to do with learning about all kinds of natural things. We don’t know what we’re walking right past each and every day that might be very significant, like a fossil, a tasty mushroom or a decapod that just doesn’t belong. The more aware and educated you make yourself, the more you’ll get out of your time in the wild. I know it’s true for me.